No Hashtag Matters

Civic Internet is an oxymoron.

If you think that you can, without help from other people, make a change in your community by using the Internet, you believe in the Civic Internet. And I’m writing to let you in on another way of thinking.

In my city, Sunny Syracuse (another oxymoron), civics is not on the Internet, it’s in the people.

But hardly.

I’m not nearly civic enough. I’m guilty of not enough Civic. And too much Internet. I fall into that trap too easily, I’m a partner in a digital agency. I live on the Internet most of the day. Whether on Slack, Gmail, or — just as likely — StackOverflow, my head is in front of the screen more than it is other people. So I understand from experience just how ineffective the Internet can be for civic engagement.

I have a hypothesis as to why.

Because no one cares about a trending hashtag. The only people who care about the trending hashtag are the people who are tweeting about it. Outside of them, viewers are only offended or indifferent. And both are useless. Offended is only a feeling, and not one that leads to action but only internal monologues or neutered remarks to friends and family.

You might think that there are cases where #HashtagsMatter…The extent to which #BlackLivesMatter has an impact on the mistreatment of young black men in communities across this country is entirely dependent on how many people get out on the streets, protest, and get out to be heard. The hashtag is an afterthought to those people who are angry enough to get out and stand up to their civil oppressors. It matters to you though, because you can support or reject the movement’s validity with a single tweet. Your options are #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter.

Civic engagement starts with a group of allies with a shared cause. You have got to want a change, then you’ve got to join together and be heard. After that, everyone else is going to do what they’re going to do. But you, you’ll have been heard.

I think about my grandmother, Marian, and her civic engagement. She’s the only person I know who did something for a cause greater than herself or her family. The only one I can think of. She fought for nurses rights in New York. Born in 1915, when she was a young nurse she wasn’t legally considered a professional.Male doctors were professionals. Nurses were not. And that had an effect on her benefits as well as legal protections for her job. Whilst there’s nothing controversial about that now, at the time it was not a given. She would not be afforded legal protections. And without voices speaking up for this cause, this would still be a given today. Because for society to change people have to demand it.

So she was heard. She and her gang lobbied Albany legislators. And they got a state-wide law passed, a law which many other states used as a model. After that law was passed, she became a professional. And today all the nurses in New York are as well. The thing about Marian and her gang was…they were more than offended, they were outraged. And that outrage became persuasive.

The USA needs a more persuasive populace. If arguments are only had by a few, then the rest of the population will be voting for or against. Or they’ll sit out a vote and tweet instead. But if the whole of us make arguments and get engaged, well then we might have…

David Simon, a modern master of argument and creator of the television show The Wire, made an argument for the end of the drug war in that show. While the show wasn’t a commercial success, it’s considered a great television show. Not for it’s incredible team of actors, though it had them, nor for it’s outstanding visual template, though it had one of those as well. It can only be great for its argument. By humanizing drug dealers, inner city schoolchildren, and by revealing how the war on drugs diminishes the police force, it showed suburban Americans like me how the drug war harms America. The Wire started with people. Its creators gathered information from citizens of Baltimore then told their story. And it picked a point of view. The Wire is with the man-on-ground types. Detectives, not Colonels. Corner boys, not Kingpins. Reporters, not Managing Editors. And by picking a point of view the show presented a persuasive argument.

So listen to what David Simon says, “Have a take, don’t suck.”

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What does a Syracusan do to get civic?

Check out Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today. The group meets to discuss and improve neighborhoods in Syracuse. Your neighbors are your neighbors. You’re going to be close to them for a while to come. Therefore, go to a meeting and collaborate with them on solutions to your local problems.